I just had to give a client a price for an order of photographic prints. How in the world does one come up with an amount that’s reasonable for the client and fair to the photographer? In a previous article, I looked at setting prices for photography services.
In this piece, we’ll look at what goes into setting a price for prints. If you’re selling prints as part of a package, for instance you have a wedding or family portrait photography business, see that previous article. This one is for selling fine art prints, notecards and other photo print products.
Selling Your Photographic Prints
Once upon a time, a good photographer could make a decent living selling prints and stock photos. With the decline of magazines and the rise of micro stock agencies, those days are gone. The best photographers can still do well selling prints. And you can, too, if you have the talent, a unique look, an unusual niche, or are in the right location.
Let’s assume that you have a photography business, full or part time, from which you already (or plan to) derive a significant chunk of your income. We’ll also assume you aren’t represented by an agent or gallery. Your print prices will have to reflect myriad costs, many of which will not be apparent to the buyer and some of which might not be front of mind for you.
What You Need to Consider to Sell Your Prints
What if a client wants to buy a 20 by 30 inch (50 x 76 cm) print? I can have a lab print and ship it, which will cost me around $40.00 US. (A metal print would be about $180.00). But that’s only the beginning of my costs. Selling that print for $40.00, or even $50.00, isn’t going to pay the mortgage.
If I’m counting on my photography income to support me (and maybe a family) I also have to take into account both fixed living expenses and business expenses as well as any variable expenses. In The Ultimate Guide to Price Your Photography, we described a method of calculating what you’d need to charge, per hour, to break even. Essentially, you add up all your yearly costs of living plus the annual costs of running a business. Then you divide that total by 2,000 (the number of hours you will work per year). You can use NPPA’s Cost of Doing Business Calculator to make it a little easier.
The hardest and most time consuming part is figuring out all your costs. Fortunately, you only have to do this once a year. I like to look at my previous year’s taxes, credit card and bank statements to be sure I’m not missing anything. To make this simple, let’s say you come out with a breakeven point of $100.00 per hour.
That number is the minimum you need to make each hour to cover expenses. Note that you’re not going to have a full schedule and be working on paying jobs all of those 2,000 hours. So, you have to estimate how many hours you will actually have paid work. Many photographers multiply their breakeven figure by two or three. To keep things simple, let’s say you multiply by twice the initial calculation, or $200/hour. That’s you base rate.
How Much to Charge for Your Photographic Prints
Once you have an hourly cost, you can multiply by the amount of hours it will take you to process the order (which might include extra post processing, along with the actual time spent ordering the print and doing the bookkeeping). Then add in any variable expenses for the job (i.e. cost of printing and shipping). Then add in a profit margin.
In the case of my 20” x 30” print, if it takes me a half hour to process the order and do the bookkeeping (1/2 hour = $100 breakeven), plus $40 for printing and shipping = $140. Plus, I have to build in some profit margin. So, maybe I sell the print for $175 or $200. Surveys show that full-time, experienced professional photographers charge between $150 and $250 per hour or per print. Top end photographers can get as much as $500 to $1,000.
The smaller the print, the less you can charge. You’re not going to get many 8×10 sales at $150, so it’s better to concentrate on selling the larger sizes where you can cover or exceed your breakeven point.
Orders for multiple prints might result in lower per-print costs. Let’s say a client orders four prints, which takes me one hour to process and do the books. That’s $200 for my time and $160 for the prints, which is $360, or only $90 per print at breakeven. Maybe I sell the four prints for $400 – $500.
Can you get that much? Maybe not. Especially if you’re just starting out. Not many people are selling prints for prices like Peter Lik.
Other Factors That Impact Your Pricing Decisions.
What is the local market? Is there demand for prints? Who is your competition? What are the prevailing prices?
Check local art galleries, art shows and art fairs to get an idea of what your local market is like. How hard it is to get in a gallery or art fair? What sells? At what price? Then price your work accordingly.
You may be pleasantly surprised at how much fine art photography sells for. If you’re in a vacation town, or somewhere where there is a lot of building going on, the demand may be high as people want to decorate their new house or return home with a great memory. A photographer friend in New England has photos of moose in several Maine stores that cater to tourists. Those photos are consistent sellers for him. Another friend sells photos of the southwest at art fairs to people decorating vacation homes. I live near Washington, DC, where there are a lot of offices, big homes and high incomes, and there will always be people looking for art to decorate their walls.
Still, you have to be realistic and price your prints according to what the market will bear, even if that’s below your breakeven. After all, you have to start somewhere! Initially, you may have to take what the market offers and shoot portraits, events or weddings to make up the difference. As you get better, and better known, your prices can increase. If you’re good, have an interesting style and unique point of view, you will eventually get noticed.
Keep shooting and don’t give up!
Frank Gallagher is a photographer and writer from Washington, DC. He built up his photography business after a career in nonprofits during which he developed extensive experience in visual storytelling. He enjoys sharing his love of photography with others.